“Last Looks” – Deserves a first [MOVIE REVIEW]
“Last Looks” is a surprisingly fun homage to hard-boiled Los Angeles-based private-eye flics. From those based on Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe in “Murder My Sweet” and “The Big Sleep” made in the 40s, to “Marlowe” and the “Long Goodbye” in the 70s, all the right notes are hit. And let’s not forget Jack Nicholson’s “Chinatown.” In each of those films Los Angeles had a starring role where the main character was caught in a swiftly moving current without a life preserver. All the elements are present — reluctant hero, police corruption, rich guys above the law, a femme fatale (in this case there are two), thugs, and big money interests. “Last Looks,” directed by Tim Kirkby and written with an assured hand by Howard Michael Gould, adapting from his novel of the same name, may not reach the heights of the aforementioned classics but it comes close and is most definitely entertaining.
Charlie Waldo is an ex-LAPD high-flyer who left the force in disgrace and has retired to the seclusion of a rundown trailer in the woods. He has shorn himself of all but 100 items, including a very limited wardrobe, a Kindle, a phone, and the miscellany that makes up the remainder. He lives what he hopes is a life of quiet simplicity. The quiet is disturbed one day with the arrival of an ex-girlfriend, Lorena, who asks him to return to LA, if only temporarily, for a high paying private eye gig. The star of a very popular TV series, Alastair Pinch, has been accused of murdering his wife and the studio needs an expert to investigate because the police have decided that the case is open and shut. The alcoholic Pinch was found near the body, passed out, and has no idea whether or not he killed his wife. The studio has too much riding on the success of his series “Johnnie’s Bench” to lose Pinch to prison. Wilson Sikorsky, president of production, is desperate to keep his star. A hostile takeover of the studio is looming and the popular series could be the difference between winning and losing for Sikorsky.
Waldo is unmoved. He doesn’t need the headaches and doesn’t care about the money. But shortly after Lorena leaves, Waldo is visited by a couple of thugs who let it be known that Lorena has been taken out of commission and that he needs to drop the case. What case? He never signed on but somehow his attachment has been spread all over the Hollywood Trade News. Waldo leaves immediately for LA in hopes of finding Lorena and letting the press know that he’s not involved.
He arrives at the television studio with questions but is soon whisked away by Sikorsky to meet Pinch. The very charming, bombastic Pinch cajoles him into staying, if only for a day, to scope out what might have happened. Soon Waldo is on the case and interviewing people who knew both Mr. and Mrs. Pinch. And here’s where we dip into classic noir because there’s always a beautiful angelic dame and this time she’s the kindergarten teacher of Pinch’s daughter who’s less than pure as the driven snow. In no time flat she’s seduced Waldo, but he’s only one in quite a long stream of lovers, including Pinch. This, it turns out, is the quintessential high powered, impossible to get into, kindergarten and the children of many of the major players with skin in this game.
There are other bad guys, of course, not the least of which are Waldo’s former “colleagues” at the LAPD and a couple of other hoods in search of something they’re sure is in his possession. Lorena, before her disappearance, indicated that she had left this mystery item with Waldo.
Fast-paced, sly, with as many red herrings as a Harlan Coben novel, Kirkby keeps things moving. Even the production design is a pleasure, capturing the excesses of wealth in mansions of the rich and famous, the on-location studio set showing the workings of the crews that thanklessly staff series television, and the endless drives through streets of the not-so rich and definitely not famous. Kirkby and his cinematographer Lyle Vincent have captured Los Angeles to a T. Whether it’s the mansions of West Hollywood, the picture perfect studio lot or the tract apartments of Hollywood, a visceral feeling is achieved as the camera follows Waldo on his bike from one place to another. The quintessential environmentalist, it is oft times hilarious to watch him navigate the streets, even if they are uncharacteristically devoid of typical traffic. Kudos should also be given to the location team for finding places in Atlanta that subbed for the studio. Apparently some of this was filmed in Georgia and I’ll be darned if I can differentiate the stand-ins from the real thing.
The cast brings the plot to life and they are uniformly excellent. Charlie Hunnam, a Brit whose career took off with “Sons of Anarchy,” is terrific as Waldo. He has just the right mix of reluctance, bravado, weakness, and vulnerability to go along with his movie star good looks. More James Garneresque than Humphrey Bogart, those are still good shoes to try and fill. It would have been easy to let a knowing smirk pass his lips occasionally but he doesn’t. There is a sincerity to his performance that navigates this film to high ground.
Mel Gibson as Pinch truly captures the alcoholic, self-absorbed Brit, a formerly lauded Shakespearean actor whose greatest success has come playing a non-dimensional Alabama judge. The accent and self-deprecation are pitch- (or should I say Pinch-) perfect. We’ll leave the elephant in the room still standing while appreciating what Gibson brought to this role that has a degree of vulnerability off-setting the stereotypic narcissism.
Lucy Fry as the kindergarten teacher and Morena Baccarin as Lorena would have made suitable bad girls in any of the lesser noir films of the 40s and 50s. And the thugs beating on the hapless Waldo were eye-popping in their cartoonish assaults, whether by the police played by Clancy Brown or Paul Ben-Victor, a gang led by Swag Dogg played by Method Man, or the suspected abductor of Lorena played to hilarious effect by Jacob Scipio as Don Q whose muscle is a gigantic Inuit (Canadian for Eskimo and don’t you forget it). Rupert Friend is fine as Wilson Sikorsky but he never elevates the character to the level and depth of the other leads.
Kirkby and Gould have given us a crack detective movie that is an affectionately accurate send-up of Hollywood and its players and business. It may not reach the pantheon of the movie detective genre but it sure is fun and even being in the second tier is pretty high up there.
Opening Friday February 4th at the Laemmle Glendale as well as On Demand and various Digital platforms.